Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Monte del Fra - A Festival Fave

For the last couple of years, one of the more intriguing wineries attending the Vancouver International Wine Festival has been Monte del Frá. Hailing from the Veneto in northern Italy, not far from Venice and Verona, I've met and chatted with Marica Bonomo on a number of occasions as I know the winery's Canadian representatives, Lucila and Ricardo of Patagonia Imports (the picture is of Marica on the right and Lucila on the left).

With spaghetti and meatballs on the table tonight, I figured that I might as well pull the cork on one the Italian wines that I picked up at this year's show - especially since Italy was announced as the Theme Region for next year's Festival. Marica was pouring four wines at this year's Festival and I took an immediate liking to the Ripasso.

1877.  2012 Monte del Frá - Lena di Mezzo Valpolicella Ripasso (Valpolicella Ripasso D.O.C. Classico Superiore - Italy)

I tend to enjoy red wines that have a touch more body than most of the general release Valpolicella wines we find in the Vancouver market. Accordingly, I'm always on the lookout for a tasty, well-priced Ripasso. As previously noted on Ripasso posts, the making of Ripasso is a relatively recent vinification process (having seen its first commercial releases in the late 1980's). The winery completes an initial ferment of its Valpolicella wine and then (as noted on Monte del Frá's website) "the skins of the grapes that have been pressed to make Amarone are added...setting off a second, slow fermentation." The result is a richer, more flavourful Valpolicella.

The wine is made with traditional Valpolicella grapes and Monte del Frá's Ripasso is 80% Corvina with Rondinella rounding out the remaining 20% of the blend. The grapes are from the Lena di Mezzo vineyard - one of the eleven vineyards in the Veneto region that provide grapes to the winery.

As with so many Italian wineries, there are records of the Monte del Frá vineyards and wines dating back to 1492 when the lands were owned by monks and rented out to different families. The lands have been the source of fierce fighting and legal disputes over the centuries and the properties were even put up for auction by Napolean Bonaparte when they were expropriated from the church. Marica's family founded the current day winery in 1958 and it has been the subject of stories in and reviewed in Wine Spectator, Decanter and the Italian wine bible, Gambero Rosso.

I'll have to find out if the Ripasso is going to be a regular find on Vancouver wine shelves or whether it was just brought in for the Festival. I'm hoping it's the former possibility. I'm also hoping to see Marica and Monte del Frá leading the Italian charge in Vancouver next year. It should be a tasty time.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Elzee's New Dirty Apron

The great thing about giving a cookbook for Christmas is that there's always the potential of being invited for dinner so that the recipient can try out a new recipe on you. Not that there was any nefarious intent in Boo's and my giving The Dirty Apron Cookbook to Elzee last December. Her proposal to use us as guinea pigs as she tried out some intriguing dishes was both welcome and easy to accept. Girl knows how to cook - with or without a cook book.

The dinner was also a perfect opportunity to pop the cork on some exciting wines.

1874.  N.V. Giusti - Asola Dry Prosecco (Prosecco D.O.C.G. - Italy)

I'd met up with Elzee and her brother, Hockey Cop, for some of the Friday night grand tasting at the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival and one of the definite treats of that night was our visit to the Giusti table. Not only were all the wines as tasty as all get go but Elzee and Hockey Cop struck up an entertaining conversation with winery principal, Joe Giusti. It turns out that Elzee and Hockey Cop's dad is pretty much from the same village as Joe was from. The conversation morphed into an extra special opening of a Giusti icon - their Acquavite Riserva Grappa (much to Joe's agent's dismay).

The Grappa wasn't available for sale but I did pick up some of the winery's Prosecco and I figured there'd be no better occasion to open a bottle than at tonight's dinner.

This is not, however, a simple Prosecco to make Aperol Spritzers or Mimosas with. No. No. No. Being a D.O.C.G. wine, it is made from the traditional Glera grape but Giusti strives for an intensity that captures classic tree fruit and citrus notes but lifts it to a more pronounced level of sophistication. Our bottle didn't last longer than our hors d'oeuvres but I could easily see drinking this through an entire meal.

We definitely sipped away while trying to figure out a way to take Joe up on his offer for us to all visit him if we ever make our way to the Veneto. Travelling to Italy with Elzee has long been a bucket list item for Boo and I. I think Giusti just upped the ante.

1875.  2012 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Elzee just happened to have a bottle of Burrowing Owl Chard in the fridge. So, it didn't take much arm twisting to pour it along with her Kale Caesar salad. I don't tend to buy as many Burrowing Owl wines as I used to. There's just so much choice for Okanagan wines nowadays - and Burrowing Owl is now one of many excellent producers instead of being one of a few that was head and shoulders above the others.

It was nice to try the Chardonnay though since I can't say that I buy Burrowing Owl's whites as much as I go for their reds. Regular readers will know that I'm not all that partial to Chardonnay - especially the big, oak-driven versions that can be prevalent in the market. Wines like this are simply evidence that it doesn't pay to be ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) wine drinkers. This was a full bodied Chard (being from a warmer vintage for the Okanagan) but the oak, while noticeable, wasn't overbearing and was well integrated. I'll admit I refilled my glass.

The main course of braised short ribs was paired with a bottle that I'd been holding onto for awhile. It was a bottle that Elzee had given Boo and I for Christmas a few years back. Just like our giving cookbooks can result in dinners, Elzee's gift of wine might just see us open it to share with her. What goes around, comes around - or so they say.

1876.  2007 Tawse - Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc (Lincoln Lakeshore VQA - Niagra - Ontario)

Unfortunately, I can count, on the fingers of one hand, the number of Tawse wines that I've had - and they've been largely white wines. I just don't see many Tawse wines available for sale in Vancouver. As I've previously lamented, that fact will hopefully change in the times to come. It was a welcome discovery, therefore, to find the Tawse Cab Franc in our cellar. Neither Elzee nor I knew of the wine or the winery's provenance when she picked up the bottle during a visit to Toronto.

Glad she did though. All three of us thought it was a standout. Full of body and vibrant fruit, every bite of short rib was simply elevated by another sip of the Cab Franc.

The Tawse website says that the Laundry Vineyard Cab Franc vines are among the oldest in the Niagra region of Ontario. Sustainably-farmed, the fruit was clearly evident in the glass and a nice touch of spice on the finish just enhanced our enjoyment.

Now to find some more Tawse Cab.

Having said that, you know there was no Tawse left by the time Elzee brought out the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Not that we need any more libation but, in honour of our Giusti tales, Elzee brought out some of her dad's own grappa preserved cherries as a nightcap to beat all others.

All told, this was one helluva a dinner: delicious food and ever-so-tasty wines. I think I'm going to have to start looking for another cookbook to give to Elzee this Christmas. No agenda of course. Just a little something to help her fill a little adventure time in the kitchen. I will bring the wine, however, if she needs another guinea pig.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Miss Jaq is Back

This time last year, we were contemplating a trip to China to visit with Miss Jaq. At the time she was working in Luoyang - possibly the biggest city you've never heard of. Luoyang has a population of 6.5 million and, if Miss Jaq hadn't gone there, we likely would have gone through life never having heard of it. Doesn't really matter though because - unlike her stint in Abu Dhabi - Miss Jaq didn't care much for Luoyang and didn't return there. She was enticed to return to China and to Shanghai however - and that's where we were going to catch up with her.

Turns out that the position in Shanghai was even less agreeable than the one in Luoyang and she left the new job at the first opportunity. As soon as she told us that last Fall, we decided against going to China if she wasn't even going to be there.

Miss Jaq is back is Vancouver though and we had her over for a long-needed catch up and to let her watch some RuPaul's Drag Race. Funny, but that show doesn't make it to China.

1873.  2003 Rockford - Rifle Range Cabernet Sauvignon (Barossa Valley - Australia)

The great news was that we got to see our wonderful friend again. The not so good news (for her anyhow) was that she's still recovering from some nasty leftovers of her latest Chinese foray and she isn't drinking wine at the moment as alcohol doesn't seem to be agreeing with her constitution for the time being.

That fact was made even sadder for her because we'd pulled the cork on a treat that we'd been saving. We tried enticing her with a small glass or at least a sip or two but there was no persuading her.

We don't see much Rockford available for sale in the Vancouver market - at least I don't seem to. We've tried a few Rockford wines at Australia Wine Appreciation Society tastings but I can't say as that I've ever had a full exposure to the winery. Over the years, I've been well aware of Rockford's reputation of being a leading Barossa producer and we'd even hoped to pay a visit when we were in the Barossa. That visit didn't pan out but we did score a half bottle of the Rockford '09 Cab to go with a smoked meat pizza on our final night in the Barossa. That just made me even more favourably inclined to the brand. Accordingly, every once in awhile, I'll run across a bottle in town and instinctively reach for it. It can be hard to give bottles like this time in the cellar but we do occasionally give it a try - until one of those grand occasions, like tonight, arrives.

Even with a decade's age on this bottle, it still started out with big, dark fruit. It was a good thing that's we'd paired it with some big flavours of their own - mussel soup and lamb kebabs - because this was no easy sipper. By the time we got the to last glass, however, the wine had mellowed nicely and it was a lovely sip all by itself.

Unfortunately, we only had the one bottle. So, Miss Jaq didn't and won't get to fully appreciate or celebrate with us this time but she promised to be better in time for the annual Miss Jaq Wine Picnic. That's a promise we intend to make her keep. We might not have any more Rockford to bring along but I'll do my best to find something appropriate to the occasion.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Swedish Mussels and Wine Picks

It's not too often that I go out for dinner and someone else takes full control of the wine list and for ordering the evening's fare. Given my wine indulgences, most dining partners don't want to have anything to do with choosing a wine. They just leave it up to me. As such, it was interesting to see Bergmann just take charge when I joined him and my old neighbour, Red, for dinner on The Drive.

Bergmann was down to his last days in Vancouver before he returned to his native Sweden for the summer. His winter on the Whistler slopes and in Red's arms was bout to end and Red hoped that we could all get together. Red called up La Gondoliera to join in and the setting was there for an engrossing dinner. It would seem that Red still misses the old hood because we could have gone anywhere for dinner - and there are some new, happening restaurants near her new digs - but she quickly opted for the moules-frites at Carthage, maybe two blocks from the old home. She says that Carthage remains a favourite of her's and Bergmann's and that they've shared many a bowl of mussels there.

I mean, who doesn't love muscles? Oops, that's "mussels," right?

1871.  2013 Humberto Canale - Diego Murillo Malbec (Rio Negro - Patagonia - Argentina)

In any event, I was happy to let Bergmann assume the role of wine director - particularly since he had a rapport and history with our waiter. They bantered back and forth for a bit and settled on a Malbec. I must say that I might not have gone that direction with mussels (and La Gondoliera opted to stick with her much beloved Prosecco) but it was an easy drinking, fruity Malbec and it paired better than I might have expected.

I've certainly seen the Diego Murillo label sitting on local shelves but I can't recall ever having tried it before. Like many wineries in Argentina, Humberto Canale has been around for many years - long before the arrival of Argentine Malbec on the global wine scene. The founder and namesake of the winery established the company in 1909 and the fourth generation of the family is currently manning the operations.

I found it interesting that this is a Malbec from Patagonia and not the more ubiquitous Mendoza region. Patagonia, in general, sees a cooler climate than Mendoza; so, that might have lent itself to a bit lighter structure in the wine. That being said, however, this is truly an entry level wine. There aren't all that many bottles in our market that come in at under $10. So, I'm not sure this is the best example to use when forming an opinion on wines from the region.

Regardless of the wine's pedigree, the bottle was empty soon enough and we needed a second.

1872.  2011 3 Mile Estate - Cabernet Merlot (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Bergmann's second choice was even more of a surprise. In part because I couldn't recall having seen it before and I figure I have a pretty good handle on BC wineries. At first, I thought it might be one of the virtual wineries producing bulk wines that may or may not be made of local fruit but I then saw that it was an Okanagan Valley VQA wine - meaning that it not only has to be made from local fruit but that the wine has to pass inspection by a tasting panel that qualifies wines as meeting minimum quality requirements.

In thinking back (after the fact), I recall that Luke Smith, of Howling Bluff, has previously referred to a 3 Mile vineyard on some of his labels. So, I don't know if the folks behind that vineyard have opted to produce some of their own wines now rather than sell all their fruit or if it's a totally different operation but I do see that there is a 3 Mile Road that runs along the Naramata Bench.  I guess that just gives me even more to look into next time I'm up visiting the Bench.

The Cab Merlot didn't blow my socks off but that might have been because, by now, we were drinking it with no further accompaniment than our conversations. Our entrées were long finished and the wine was a bit big for the desserts on offer. There was nothing left in the bottle upon our departure though; so, it was hardly a flawed wine.

And, as I often say in this blog, I always like to see what other folks pick when it comes to choosing wine. So, to have Bergmann so readily step up to the plate was intriguing. We didn't discuss what the wine culture is like in Sweden but that too will just have to be a topic for me to look into further in the days to come. I don't think Boo and I will make it to Scandinavia any time soon but Bergmann's scheduled to return to Whistler - and Red, naturally - this Fall. We'll just have to make plans for more mussels.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Langmeil - A Valley Floor Special

Now that this year's Vancouver International Wine Festival has concluded, I figured I might as well toast the festival and this year's theme region, Australia, with a favourite Aussie wine of mine. Langmeil wasn't one of the 60+ wineries that visited from Down Under this year but Shiraz was the variety featured in this year's global focus. So, I'm kinda still in the ballpark.

1870.  2007 Langmeil Valley Floor Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

This is the fifth bottle of Valley Floor Shiraz that I've added to The List. The '06 was added way back at #58; the '02 was #183. 2005 clocked in at #515 and a magnum of '06 became #1658 last summer when it was miraculously smuggled into my sister's wedding reception. This little Odyssey has added other Langmeil wines (like Grenache or the ever-present Aussie GSM blend) as well and the winery was even a highlight of a tour of the Barossa a few years back.

I think you get the picture.

So, I was a little saddened by the fact that Langmeil didn't attend this year's Festival but I suppose having a full bottle of wine at home is that much better than a quick sip and spit at a festival anyways.

Over the years, I've found the Valley Floor Shiraz to be a dependably tasty pour and the '07 vintage was no exception. In these days where many Aussie producers are dialing back on their fruit-forwardness, Valley Floor has never shied away from big, dark fruit on the palate but I never found it to be an over-the-top fruit bomb either. Langmeil has always strived for more balance and integration and, in some ways, I think they were already at that place where others are now striving to be.

Even though the Langmeil folks didn't bring any special treats for me to nab at this year's Festival, I'm happy to say that I still have a few Langmeil beauties stored away in the cellar. Who knows, they may even make it to The List before I hit #2001.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Wine to Blow Gismondi's Tits Off

As Vancouver gears up for the annual International Wine Festival, we full-blooded Aussie-philes are are in for some even bigger treats than usual. The featured region at this year's festival is Australia and one of the side benefits is that the Australia Wine Appreciation Society is calling on an old friend and dragging her out for an AWAS winery dinner.

Jane Ferrari is about as iconic a figure as you can find in the world of Australian wine and she has likely done as much as anyone I can think of when it comes to promoting Australian wine in Vancouver. The first real recollection I have of Jane was a seminar she led for the Wine Festival. She was talking about Yalumba's reintroduction of Viognier to the world and the seminar was called "The Viognier Monologues" - after the hot play of the time ("The Vagina Monologues" if you're not a theatre buff).

As you might guess, this is one witty lady. At tonight's AWAS dinner, she not only gave us the goods on Yalumba (in specific) and the Barossa and Australia in general, but she often had the assembled gang in full out laughter - and example being her history lesson on how the Aussies would likely be speaking Dutch now if the English hadn't been kicked out of the States around the same time the colonization of Oz was taking place.

Equally charming were her descriptions of politicians as "the same bum in a different pair of pants" and the early days of Australian cuisine as "boil, bake and ruin."

I can't recall the question or topic that prompted her bons mots that "they all feel like George Clooney in the dark" but that will be a phrase I'm sure to make use of in the days to come.

The girl knows her stuff though and we were treated to nine wines and four courses. I heard a number of people (myself and Boo included) who commented that this might have been the best meal to be served up at Tramonto restaurant (a frequent location for AWAS dinners). I know that the Smoked Pork Belly Confit with Tomato Spaetzle, Salsa Verde and Chili Chicharron was to die for! They could have continued to bring plate after plate of that dish - along with the two vintages of The Menzies Cab Sauv - and I wouldn't have complained one bit.

The wine I'm going to add to The List, however, was one of the last of the evening and I'm choosing it because you can't currently find it or buy it in Canada. Indeed, Jane announced that the previous night was the first time that the Paradox Shiraz had been in Canada. Naturally, she added that it "blew Gismondi's tits off." ("Gismondi" being local wine scribe Anthony Gismondi.)

1869. 2010 Yalumba - Paradox North Barossa Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

This is the first vintage of Paradox and it was so named because, like a paradox, this is a Barossa Shiraz that is contrary to what you might normally expect from the region. Not from the school of high octane and heavily oaked wines with huge fruit, this is a "softer, gentler" Shiraz. Paradox is one of the "Distinguished Sites" series that the Yalumba website describes as "wines from venerable and elite vineyards whose provenance have been identified for individuality, consistency and a unique expression of Barossa terroir."

Paradox is "fermented using the natural yeasts from the vineyard and aged with minimal winemaker influence." The website further advises that, while the 2010 growing season started off with some problematic winds while the fruit was setting, in the end many at Yalumba feel that wine lovers will look back on 2010 as being one of the great Barossa Shiraz vintages. Bottled in early 2012, the wine could age for another twenty or more years. Not that I could wait that long.

The dinner was my unofficial start to this year's Wine Festival and I can only hope that the rest of festival can match our dinner. It's quite an effort to corral fifty-plus wineries from Down Under. Here's hoping the Aussies who make the journey to our shores enjoy themselves as much as I hope to enjoy their wines.

As Jane pointed out, "it's a long way from Alice Springs to Vancouver." I, for one, am a happy Bob every time she does.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Another High School Musical

First it was Zombie Prom. Then Urinetown. Now, it's time for In The Heights.

Yes, it's time for another high school musical. This time around, Melmo, the youngest niece, has a featured role in the Broadway hit. Unlike the others, I've actually heard of this show. Don't know anything about the songs or the story but I did know it was a hot ticket on the Great White Way the last time Boo and I were in the Big Apple.

It's a little tough taking an obvious glass of wine to the high school gym; so, we had a quick pre-show dinner at my sister's place before heading off to the school.

1867.  2007 Saviah Cellars - The Jack Red (Columbia Valley - Washington)

I'm pretty sure that this is the first time that I've tried a wine from Saviah Cellars. I don't recognize the winery and I don't tend buy many US wines up here, north of the 49th Parallel, because of the additional taxes and currency exchange. So, I think I probably grabbed this during a Costco run during a naughty weekend in Seattle.

A little visit with Mr. Google shows that Saviah Cellars was established in 2000 as a very small boutique winery of only 300 cases. It has since grown to the point where it produces around 18,000 cases annually and was named "One of the Rising Stars in Washington" by Wine Spectator in 2010.

The Jack brand of wines is Saviah's entry label and it has also enjoyed success, having been named one of the Top Value Brands of the Year in 2013 by Wine & Spirits Magazine. The 2007 vintage of The Jack Red was primarily Merlot (89 percent) that is fleshed out with small additions of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot.

Although the wine was big-bodied, it was still fruit forward and approachable enough to fill our travel coffee mugs to take with us to the show. We hadn't finished the bottle during dinner and you never know the kind of "support" you might need to get through a high school production.

1868.  2012 Fort Berens Riesling (British Columbia VQA)

When looking for a white to take to Vixen's, I was glad to see that I had a bottle of the 2012 Riesling in the cellar because I hadn't realized that I'd picked up a bottle before it won one of the twelve Lieutenant Governor's Awards given out in 2014. Once a wine is given one of the prestigious awards, it can be next to impossible to find a bottle.

What was quite exciting about the award was that this was the first vintage where the Riesling was made 100% from fruit that was estate grown at the winery's Lillooet vineyard. Being the first winery to set up shop in the Lillooet region, the winery is justifiably proud of the fact that they were able to execute such an award-winning wine so early in the winery's venture. It should certainly turn some heads in the direction of BC's newest wine-producing region.

Even with this vintage's bright lime and minerality, Fort Beren's story should only get more exciting since the home estate vines are still very young and the enterprise has, within the last year, opened a new winery with facilities large enough to make all its wines, cellar them and open a tasting room to help draw wine-loving folks away from the Okanagan for a spell.

There was no Riesling left for the theatre however.

As exciting as the wine was, we were told that Melmo was to have a big solo number in the show. Now, that would be exciting! Terrifying perhaps, but exciting all the same. We were also told, however, that Melmo's character dies six minutes into the show. Naturally, we asked if we could leave after she dies. Turned out that she didn't die until the second act; so, we stuck it out until the end in order to give our little diva her bouquet of roses. After all, she managed to pull off her performance without any cringe-worthy notes.

Guess we'll have one more production to look forward to as Melmo definitely has the stage bug and she doesn't graduate until next year. Given the variety of shows the school drama department comes up with, I'll be intrigued to see what that performance is going to be. Think a high school could get Spamalot? Whatever the show is, I'm sure we'll be there - wine in hand.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A New Bundle of Joy

In one of the most astonishing stories to start off 2015, our neighbours, Nature Boy and Mr. Principled, joyfully announced that they had become daddies - and in as about as unexpected manner as you could ever imagine. The boys had been trying to adopt for a couple of years now but they hadn't heard anything from the adoption agency for six months. Nada. Nothing.

Then, one afternoon in early January, they get a call at 2 in the afternoon to see if they could arrive at the hospital by 5. All they were told was that a birth mother had chosen them and they were going to be parents. Three hours notice that you're becoming a father. Whoa.

Not having had even a whisper of an adoption, they had no bedroom prepared. No basinet. No clothes. No bottles. Again, nothing.

But the beauty of our neighbourhood was that all measures of baby paraphernalia started arriving. It's maybe six weeks later now - and there's little doubt that the boys' lives have turned topsy-turvy - but they're as happy as stink - and that's not just from their baby girl's diapers.

Being Jewish, the boys introduced their new bundle of joy to the congregation at their synagogue in a naming ceremony and they invited all of the neighbours to join in. I tried to think back but, quite surprisingly, I couldn't recall ever having attended Shabbat prayers or visiting a synagogue. Not knowing what to expect, I have to admit that I was quite taken with the musicality of the service and the casual camaraderie of the congregation. It was a lovely introduction to their faith and their new daughter's community beyond the neighbourhood aunties and uncles.

1866.  2012 Renwood Zinfandel (California)

The service was followed by a wonderful lunch - or kiddush - that the boys hosted and, lo and behold, there was wine to accompany all the nosh and goodies. Luckily, the wine was better than the photo I took of the bottle.

I gravitated towards the Zin thinking that the expected fruitiness would be an easy go with the variety of flavours being offered - particularly the most delicious beet and pomegranate salad. I don't know much about Renwood but I've previously added a couple of their higher end Zin's to The List as I picked up a few of their wines over the years at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. I believe this bottle is the only bottle of their's that is currently offered in our government system however.

Although hardly a regular drinker of Renwood's wines, I tend to remember their name because, one time while at a California Wine Fair in Vancouver, I was told that there are a number of Californian Zin producers that start with the letter "R" and that many of them are premier producers. Renwood was one of the wineries that was recommended. Good on the boys for having identified them.

So this newest bottle to be added to The List is truly celebratory in all manners. They will have been - and will be - wines of bigger pedigree on The List, but very few will have as much joy attached to them.


Friday, February 20, 2015

A Haywire Start to the New Year

So, my last entry was for the arrival of the Year of the Sheep. Silly me, I'd made a special effort to go out of my way and find a particular wine that Haywire had fashioned to celebrate Chinese New Year. I then promptly forgot to open it to mark the occasion.  Good thing the Chinese celebrate the new year for a good two weeks. I can still open this bottle and be totally in line with the sentiments behind it.

Boo, however, did not spend another day prepping an inspired Chinese meal for me.

Luckily, this wine would have paired with almost anything - or nothing at all.

1865.  2012 Haywire Lunar New Year Red (Okanagan Valley)

For two years now, Haywire has released a Lunar Red and Lunar White blend that they have hopefully "crafted to work in perfect harmony with local cuisine found in our Asian community." Both wines are a limited release timed to coincide with the lunar new year and the wines feature specially crafted labels - with lucky red and gold colouring and calligraphied Chinese characters - to commemorate this year's welcoming of the sheep.

The Lunar Red is largely made from Gamay Noir grapes - a favourite variety at Haywire; however, a small percentage of Syrah was added and it seemed to add a little heft to the body and depth to the palate. It's not a blend that I can remember seeing before, but it certainly worked in this instance.

There were only 200 cases each of the red and white blends made but this was a tripling of 2014's initial offering when only 60 cases of each wine were offered. Even still, the volume is such that the wines are not going to be found on every shelf in every wine shop.

It might be easy to simply write this initiative off as a gimmicky, marketing ploy to entice Vancouver's teeming Chinese population - after all, the winery's initial lunar wines in 2013 sold out within days of release - but it's nice to see that there's a bigger goal involved as well. Wanting to combat a preconception that only sweeter wines or big, bold reds can effectively pair with asian cuisines, Haywire "has also developed a food and wine pairing initiative for the Asian market." In releasing the initial vintage of the lunar wines, they worked with local broadcasters and foodies Stephanie Yuen and Nathan Fong "to develop a program and guide of how to pair flavours from various parts of Asia with the flavour profiles that emerge from BC wines." That exploration of Asian cuisine and wine continued with the new releases.

And, then there's the fact that both Boo and I really enjoyed the wine. I don't know what the winery will have in store for 2016's Year of the Monkey but I'm hoping it will be just as tasty as this effort.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Surprise. An Ontario Riesling

Chinese New Year and the Year of the Sheep has arrived and I arrived home from work to find that Boo had hit the local Asian supermarket and fashioned an inspired meal (inspired in that probably only he could come up with some of the combinations involved).

As can often be the case with me and white wines, I grabbed a Riesling - although this wasn't one that I was familiar with at all. Ontario wines aren't exactly common place out here on the West Coast. I know that I've said it before but it bears saying again: It confounds me that it can be easier to find wines from Hungary, Uruguay or Tasmania than it is to find wines from other parts of our own country. Canadian liquor laws have to be as antiquated as they come. C'mon people, rise up. Let's see some direct action and demands for better access to our own Canadian products.

Thank you. I will now leave the ranting to Rick Mercer.

1864.  2011 Thirty Bench Riesling (Beamsville Bench VQA - Ontario)

Although I can't say that I know much about Ontario wines, I do know that the regions there are known for Riesling and Thirty Bench is, at least, a winery name that I've heard before. When I saw the bottle in one of our government stores, I eagerly reached for it. With the help of Mr. Google, I found out that Thirty Bench is under the Andrew Peller umbrella and - given the size of that group and their heavy presence in our province - that likely explains why one of Thirty Bench's wines made it to a shelf out here in BC.

Ontario's winemaking regions are divided into various appellations and, according to the back label of our bottle, Beamswille Bench is a "narrow strip of land near Lake Ontario that boasts sloping vineyards and deep, dry soil" where Riesling is a standout grape. Thirty Bench, itself, started out as a boutique winery in 1981, producing no more than 10,000 cases annually. The winery was purchased by Andrew Peller in 2005 but the winery has continued its smaller scale of production.

The winery is particularly known for its Rieslings, especially its series of single-block Rieslings. The bottle I found is the winery's blend from its various vineyards and it is primarily sourced from the winery's younger vines. Being the Riesling fiend that I am, I won't say that I'm going to go cross country to find another bottle. It was a touch off-dry - which may have paired better with dinner if Boo had spiced up his dishes a bit more - but, more than that, I found the palate to be a bit thin. There was nice acidity but the fruit just didn't sing at all.

I think I'd be more inclined to keep an eye out for one of the small lot bottlings.

So, inspired combinations of food and wine or not, I'll readily admit to the tastiness of the dinner. I could have refilled my plate all over again with Boo's appetizing fare. Luckily though, I remembered that I already get "Gang Way Fat Boy" at work instead of the traditional New Year's greeting "Gung Hey Fat Choy" and I thought it better to pass on seconds. Funny, there was no leftover wine however.